Trendism & cognitive stagnation

John Ohno
3 min readMay 26, 2018

(This is a follow-up to Against Trendism)

Basing visibility on popularity is a uniquely awful version of ‘tyrrany of the majority’ because uncommon views become invisible, even if, were they to start on an even playing field, they would become popular.

In this way, it encourages mental stasis: since ranking is based on an immediate appraisal of how popular something already is, and visibility is based therefore on past shallow popularity, there’s no room for rumination.

This is NOT an attribute of ‘technology’ or ‘social media’, but an attribute of visibility systems based on immediate ranking. Visibility systems based on ranking delayed by, say, three days, or with the top 25% most popular posts elided, would be fine.

Our capacity to imagine new possibilities is based largely on our familiarity with the bounds of possibility space — we can only imagine views that are in the neighborhood of views we’ve heard expressed in the past. So, making the already-unpopular invisible limits imagination.

(There are hacks we can use to make it possible to imagine views nobody has ever held. We can make random juxtapositions, impose meaning on them, and then figure out a justification for them — like tarot reading. Or, we can merely iterate from some basic idea, getting more and more extreme, while internalizing the perspective of each iteration as something someone could possibly believe in good faith. The former — the bibliomancy approach — is common in experimental…

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John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net